Gardening with Allen

Tom’s “Too Tall” Tree Story

Tom and Mary moved into a home that was only 2 years old in a nice neighborhood. The previous owner had planted a lawn, shrubs and a shade tree about 20 feet west of a large picture window. The tree was large enough to partially shade the hot afternoon sun on the window.

By the second year, the tree had grown large enough that it almost completely shaded the picture window in the afternoon, and they did not have to pull the curtains to block the heat from the sun like some of their neighbors. After noticing Tom and Mary’s shade tree, some of the neighbors planted trees in similar locations.

Two years later Mary noticed that some of the tree branches were close to the utility wire which brought electricity into their home. Tom and Mary talked about the possibility of one of the tree’s branches breaking in a storm, causing a loss of electricity.

Tom called a local tree care company, which gave him an estimate for pruning the tree. A few days later a man came to the door with a card that said he was from the “A-1 Tree Expert Company”. He explained that his crew was pruning trees that were “too tall” in the neighborhood and pointed to the shade tree branches near the utility wire. He said that the crew would “top” the tree so that all branches were at least a foot below the utility wire. He gave Mary a quote that was about half of the estimate Tom had gotten. Mary called Tom at work and they decided to have the work done since the A-1 crew was already working on the neighbor’s trees.

When Tom came home he noticed that all of the tree branches had been pruned at the same height giving it a flat top, rather than the normal round shape. The neighbor’s trees all looked the same. In talking to the neighbors, they agreed that some of the outer branches should have been shortened more to give the trees a more rounded shape. Calls to the phone number on the card were unanswered. Tom decided to call the next day during normal business hours. In examining the card more closely he noticed that the address listed on the card was a post office box.

Without any success in reaching the company during the next few days, Tom got his ladder and pruned some of the side branches himself. He was careful to stay away from the utility wire.

The post office was reluctant to disclose the physical address used to rent the post office box. However, with the concerns expressed by dozens of citizens, it disclosed the address which was in a city about 200 miles away. One of Tom’s neighbors had business in the city and checked to find that the address was a vacant lot.

After complete failure in locating the fraudulent tree care company, Tom and some of his neighbors either did additional pruning work themselves or hired local companies to do correctional pruning.

As the trees grew after the pruning in March, Tom and Mary noticed that there were dozens of new branches growing straight up from the ends of the branches which had been stubbed off at an arbitrary height. There were also dozens of sprouts growing on all of the lower branches, including the trunk of the tree. After checking with local nurseries, extension specialists and other experts, Tom was advised to remove many of these branches while they were still small. Tom and some of his neighbors were diligent in snapping off many of these lower sprouts while they were still soft and pliable in May and June.

At the end of one growing season the new branches growing from the stubbed ends had reached a height almost equivalent to tree height before pruning. These small, slender sprouts were badly connected and easily broken by the wind so they constantly littered the ground. Owners were concerned about possible injury to children and pets playing under the trees.

Tom and Mary were reluctant to have more pruning done on their tree. After the second growing season one of the now larger upper sprouts broke and severed the utility wire leading into the home in December. After waiting 2 days to have the wire restored, they then received a bill from the utility company, explaining that the utility company was not responsible for damage to individual home wires.

Reluctantly, Tom and Mary had the tree removed by a local arborist and began looking for a replacement tree which would mature at a height below utility wires.

So what did Tom and Mary learn from this experience?

  1. It is better to deal with local companies or branches so they can be easily contacted if problems arise.
  2. If a bid comes in much lower than others, check to make sure the company is qualified.
  3. Deal with licensed contractors who are properly insured. The most qualified arborists are also certified by the International Society of Arborists.
  4. Topping trees always causes more problems than it solves. If a tree needs to be reduced in size more that 20% it is probably time to replace the tree.
  5. Check the mature size of any tree or shrub before planting. Check for overhead wires or other restrictions before planting. If the tree had been planted a few feet away from the utility wire, it could have been allowed to grow much larger and continue to shade the window.

Allen Wilson

Allen has been writing about gardening for over 30 years. He is a retired professor of Horticulture. Additional gardening information is available on his web site: naturalpruningnw.com under "how to guide". A monthly email garden newsletter can also be signed up for on this site or by sending a request to allenw98663@yahoo.com.

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